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The Day the Confederate Flag Flew in the United States Capitol: Bill Moyers and Heather Cox Richardson

Historians in the News
tags: Capitol Riot



ANNOUNCER: Welcome to Moyers on Democracy. President Trump urged his followers to come to Washington for a “big protest” on January 6th. He wanted their help in reversing the results of the election he lost. “Be there,” he said.“ (It) will be wild.”  And they came. By the thousands, they came, and sure enough, it was not only “wild,”  as the President had promised, it was worse. Much worse. The protesters became a mob, stormed the US Capitol, drove the vice president and members of the House and Senate out of their chambers, and turned a day meant for celebrating democracy into a riot that sought to overturn a free and fair election. Across the country and around the world people watched, horrified, dumbfounded and disbelieving, as insurrection incited by the president of the United States and his Republican enablers struck at the very centerpiece of American governance. Here’s Bill Moyers, to talk about that day with the historian Heather Cox Richardson.

BILL MOYERS: Good morning Heather, glad you could join me.

HEATHER COX RICHARDSON: It’s always a pleasure.

BILL MOYERS: It’s the morning after what happened in Washington, the insurrection. Did you believe your eyes when you were watching those events unfold on the screen?

HEATHER COX RICHARDSON: I believed them and I wept. And I am not exaggerating. Seeing that Confederate flag, which had never flown in the Capitol during the Civil War, and it had never flown in the Capitol in the 1870s, and it had never flown in the Capitol during the second rise of KKK in the 1920s, going through our people’s government house in 2021– the blow that that means for those of us who understand exactly what was at stake in the Confederacy. That image for me, of the flag being carried through the halls was, I think, my lowest moment as an American.

BILL MOYERS: Interesting because I kept seeing the flags all afternoon: the Confederate flag, American flags flying upside down. Flags with the name “Jesus” on them, “Jesus saves,” “Jesus 2020.” A big, burly protester carrying a flag on a baseball bat that seemed as big as his arms. He paused long enough just to give the camera and us a middle finger. Joe Biden keeps saying, this isn’t America. It’s not who we are, but it is America. This kind of character and this kind of conflict and this kind of meanness are a big part of our history. Is there any hope for Biden’s aspiration to unite us again?

HEATHER COX RICHARDSON: These people have always been in our society. And they always will be in our society. What makes this moment different is that we have a president who is actively inciting them in order to destroy our democracy. We certainly have had presidents who incited these sorts of people before for one end or another. But at the end of the day, every president until now has believed in democracy. And this one does not. He wants to get rid of democracy and replace it with an oligarchy that puts him and his family at the top. The same sort of way that we have oligarchies in Russia now, for example. Biden cannot combat these people alone. This is a moment for Americans who care about our democracy and who care about returning to our fundamental principles. And finally, making them come to life to speak up, to push back, to insist on accountability and to recognize that we are, in fact, struggling for the survival of our country, not simply talking about, “Oh, I like this politician” or, “I like that politician.” And if we do that, will we win? Absolutely. But making people do that and getting people to understand how important that is is going to be a battle. And it’s one that, by the way, we’ve been in before, and lost. This is the same sort of battle we fought at the end of Reconstruction, when most Americans sort of went “Whatever.” And we ended up with a one-party state in the American South for generations. And that is exactly the sort of thing that they are trying to make happen across America itself.

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